News Release

Lead exposure and adult personality

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Researchers examine potential links between childhood lead exposure and adult personality. Lead exposure has lifelong consequences. However, whether childhood lead exposure affects adult personality is unclear. By surveying more than 1.5 million adult participants across Europe and the United States, Ted Schwaba and colleagues examined how personality traits differed based on lead exposure in childhood. Participants answered questions about their personality and provided their childhood ZIP code and the number of years they lived there. The authors linked personality scores to US Environmental Protection Agency data of US atmospheric lead levels from 1960 to 2018 and European Monitoring and Evaluation program data of European lead levels from 1990 to 2015. Overall, the authors report, US adults who grew up in areas with higher levels of atmospheric lead as opposed to lower levels were less agreeable and conscientious, and, among participants in their 20s and 30s, more neurotic than their counterparts. US participants born after enactment of the 1970 Clean Air Act were less neurotic and more agreeable and conscientious than those born before the Clean Air Act. Participants from Europe who experienced higher levels as opposed to lower levels of atmospheric lead exposure in childhood were less agreeable and more neurotic but also more conscientious than their counterparts. The findings suggest a need for further reduction of global lead exposure, according to the authors.

Article #20-20104: "The impact of childhood lead exposure on adult personality: Evidence from the United States, Europe, and a large-scale natural experiment," by Ted Schwaba et al.

MEDIA CONTACT: Ted Schwaba, University of Texas at Austin, TX; email:


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